The Canadian Rangers will be sent to help flood efforts in NWT communities, including Fort Simpson, federal defence minister Harjit Sajjan said on Twitter.
Fort Simpson’s mayor, Sean Whelly, told Cabin Radio the Rangers will be asked to help residents restore the village once people can regain access. As of Saturday, the island remained closed off with no immediate sign of the situation improving.
“The reason we’re calling in the Army is because there will be a lot of hands-on work that needs to be done as the recovery happens – we’re not looking for more tents,” Whelly said, adding he hoped the Rangers arrived “self-contained and ready to work.”
“I can’t imagine it being a small clean-up,” he said. “It’s going to be fairly big.”
The water level in Fort Simpson had dropped slightly, to about 15.5 metres, early on Saturday afternoon. However, Whelly said, the Mackenzie River still had not fully broken. He remained “quite concerned” about its impact on existing flooding caused by the Liard River.
“There’s definitely going to be a bit of a surge,” said the mayor. “We just don’t know for sure how much that would be, and it certainly could put us right back to where we were or even worse.”
With the water a little lower, the village used the lull to allow residents 10-minute home visits for checks on property and to grab belongings.
Better accommodation needed
Until the Mackenzie has broken and the danger has passed, there remains no end in sight to the disaster.
Whelly wants the territorial government to give Fort Simpson residents – many living in tents on higher ground – “safe and comfortable accommodations” in other communities.
“There’s a lot of people that are living in conditions where it’s not great,” he said. “We’ve done everything we can to make their living as manageable as possible.
“If the water goes down now, there’s not a whole lot that people can do except sit around for another week.”
He said the tents and recreation centre were not sufficient if at least another week of waiting was expected. Rain and snow affected much of the Dehcho on Friday and Saturday, worsening conditions for tent occupants.
“We’ve been doing our best but nature has kind-of conspired against us quite a bit too,” said Whelly.
“That’s one reason why I ask: why can’t we offer people a better situation than what we have?”
The mayor said volunteers and emergency officials were experiencing fatigue after many long days in stressful conditions, while power and water are limited.
Though more than 100 people have been evacuated to Fort Smith, Whelly said people were no longer leaving Fort Simpson for the time being as the emergency management group was still working on accommodation in other communities.
Nahendeh MLA and cabinet minister Shane Thompson said on Facebook the territorial government had been “discussing the situation and being updated regularly.” The territory itself on Friday shared a list of actions being taken to recover from or guard against flooding in various communities along the Mackenzie River.
“Unfortunately, what we have seen is the worst flooding that has ever been recorded from what I understand,” Thompson wrote. “There were things that they did not foresee.”
Responding to criticism from some residents that the territorial and federal governments had been slow in answering pleas for help, Thompson continued: “When the communities have requests, the GNWT has been responding. I know every request I have received from the communities, the appropriate minister has being making it a priority to deal with.
“Good leadership sometimes means stepping back and let the professionals and volunteers do their job with your support.”
Life after flooding
Beth Hudson, a Fort Simpson resident who spent much of the week coordinating donations, said people were now “thinking about the infrastructure damage … once we are able to return to the village.”
Donations of items have been paused as the community runs out of storage space, but financial contributions can still be made.
Whelly is working on providing information about the coming recovery, he said, so “people aren’t worried about next steps.”
Hudson said morale among evacuees was “holding in there” despite the poor weather of recent days.
“I think people are more comfortable now, I really do,” they said.
“It’s pretty stressful right now, knowing that the Mackenzie is coming down. It’s starting to wear and tear on people.
“Beyond that, people are still working really hard to make sure everyone’s looked after. Everyone’s trying to check in on people, and people are really trying to find ways to boost morale.”